02 January 2012

David Rubinger

Israeli paratroopers, Jerusalem, Israel, 1967.
Photograph © David Rubinger.

The European: Your most famous picture depicts a group of paratroopers next to the Wailing Wall shortly after its conquest during the Six-Day War in 1967. Tell me the story behind that picture.

Rubinger: I had been on the southern front outside of El Arish on the previous evening when I heard that something was going on in Jerusalem. I jumped aboard a helicopter that was taking the wounded to Be’er Sheva, where I had parked my car. Around six or seven in the morning, I arrived in Jerusalem, went to see my family and then headed towards the historic city center. The Wailing Wall had just been seized and the old houses were still there, so everything was quite narrow.

I laid on the ground and shot upwards to get the Wall into the frame. As the three paratroopers passed, I shot three almost identical frames. Shortly after that, the Chief Rabbi of the army entered the scenery with a Torah and a shofar. The students took him on their shoulders, cheering. I thought I had the best shot of the day. When I developed the film at home looking at them with my wife – convinced that the one with the Rabbi was the best – she preferred the three frames with the soldiers. I said: “What are you talking about? Those are just three people randomly standing there…” As always, the woman was right.

The European: The photo brought you worldwide recognition. The State of Israel gave thousands of copies away without asking for permission. Are you bitter about the copyright violation?

Rubinger: I got the rights back in a lawsuit many years ago. I had given one of the frames to the military spokesman on the same evening I took the photo. Since I had been very secure and could move freely although I was not working for the military, I had wanted to express my gratitude. The military spokesman handed the negative to the press office and they got busy printing copies. Associated Press used it as cover picture for a book. One or two colleagues sent the prints to their agencies with their name on it. For many years, I was upset. But today, I must confess that I am deeply grateful to all those thieves.

From: A 2010 interview here with Israeli photographer David Rubinger.

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